ISRC VS. ISWC. What On Earth Is That And Why Do You Need To Know!

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ISRC and ISWC are hidden music business goodies that can really make a difference. However, only if you know about them! Read on!

ISRC and ISWC are one of those things in the music industry that everyone should at least have heard about. What is more, if you really want to earn money, you need to know them by heart?

You might be wondering, why? Well, in the modern music industry most things run online. Not just streaming platforms but also collecting societies, for example.

Here’s the kicker, without clear identification of your songs and music work, you won’t get paid. And that is exactly what the ISRC and ISWC are here for.

So without further ado, let’s jump straight to the facts about ISRC and ISWC.

All you need to know

In the first place, ISRC stands for International Standard Recording Code. Likewise, ISWC means International Standard Musical Work Code.

For once, both looks really similar. That is why you need to be really careful when to use which code.

The ISRC code is connected with only one unique recording. That is already the main difference to the ISWC.

Here, you connect the code with the musical work itself. Sounds like the same? Well, not really.

You can have one composition (marked with the ISWC) and then go on and record different versions from it.

For example, you could record a live version, one remix and one with a chamber orchestra. That means you have three different recordings from the same musical work.

Why is it so important to distinguish this? If your musical composition takes off, there might be other people who do a cover from the song.

Before you think twice it can get really hard to track your songwriting royalties.

ISRC and ISWC, ISRC, ISWC
Looking after your ISRC and ISWC can bring you real money!

And that is why it is super important to also take care of the ISWC. This way, any streaming platform and collecting society will know where to send the money to!

How do an ISRC and ISWC look like?

You can’t just make up your own ISRC and ISWC. Your record label will most often do the ISRC code for you.

However, if you are a die-hard DIY artist you can get the ISRC code from USISRC, for example.

On the other hand, the ISWC code comes from your Performing Rights Collector or publisher.

Here’s an example of an International Standard Recording Code:
ISRC JM-K40-14-00212

The first bit is clear, it shows that the following numbers are in the context of the ISRC code. The next new letters (here, JM) signify the country of origins.

Next, ‘Registrant Code — a three-character alphanumeric code issued by the ISRC Agency’ (here, K40).

The following numbers show the year of registration (here 14 for 2014).

Designation Code — five-digit unique code assigned by the Registrant. These numbers must not be repeated in the same calendar year’ (here 00212).

Super important to remember: Each song only gets one ISRC!! Also, you must never change the ISRC code of a track.

For example, if you have one track that has previously been released and now you pack it onto a new album release. Then it still has the same old ISRC code.

The build-up of a ISWC code is similar to a ISRC

The International Standard Musical Work Code (ISWC) is an 11-character alphanumeric code or international identification system cataloging individual compositions (usually songs), rather than recordings. An ISWC is an identifier usually assigned by a collection society, like ASCAP in North America, to a musical work. It tracks the song title, songwriter(s), music publisher(s), and corresponding ownership shares.

*source: Songtrust

For example, an ISWC code could look like this:
T-123.456.78.C

This is crazy, the music industry is actually quite old. That means, that there are a number of historically grown structures in the system.

The ISWC is one of these, for example. This led to complicated manoeuvres and non-transparent workways.

Luckily, just a couple of days ago, a new and massive update of the ISWC system got announced.

A two-year project to modernise the global ISWC system, the unique code that identifies music works and helps remunerate their creators and publishers, has been completed and is officially launched today by CISAC, the International Confederation of Authors Societies. 

*source: CISAC

Daily usage of the ISRC and ISWC code

Even if you haven’t heard of ISRC and ISWC codes before, you’ve probably used them anyway. Every time you upload a track or album to a distribution platform, you need to send the meta-data as well.

This specifies all sort of data like the composer, record label, year of production. And, here it comes, also the ISRC codes of all tracks included in the release.

That way, the distributor can go on and tell every streaming platform that the song is preciously yours. In reverse, that means that the generated royalties will find their way back to you, too!


ISRC and ISWC are some of the more boring terminologies of the music industry. However, once you’ve understood them they can be incredibly empowering for you.

Not only will you be able to manage your releases much better, but you will also be able to track your income!


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